Flashpoint Extra: Philly-based campaign aims to change harmful narratives about youth worldwide

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Millennials: They’re lazy, money-squandering, napkin industry-killing superficial procrastinators. At least that’s what stereotypes have come to recognize them as.

But a youth-led global campaign, which recently planted its roots at 15th and Cherry streets in Center City, wants to change that narrative about young people.

“We are not at-risk. We are agents of change,” said 23-year-old Sophia Burns, a youth fellow with the American Friends Service Committee.

Burns is one of the many across the world who are leading the charge in a global initiative known as #WeAreNotAtRisk. The purpose, she said, is to urge media outlets, journalists, bloggers and influencers to stand with the 3 billion young people worldwide and ensure stories about young people actually include young people and avoid the use of harmful terminology.

The use of negative language ignores the challenges young people face, Burns said, like poverty, racism or a cash-strapped education system. 

“Narratives have power. Words have power,” she continued. “Words like at-risk, words like marginalized or criminal — a lot of these words are not coming from places of seeing youth in their full humanity.”

Rather, the effort aims to have others see youth as “people who are in charge of their futures” and “positive contributors to society.”

The initiative has multiple parts, including a social media campaign — #3BillionStrong and #WeAreNotAtRisk, plus a GIF that features young people from around the world. Locally, there will be workshops at Philadelphia schools to teach young people how to tell their own stories. 

The final part is to get the media to take a pledge promising to watch their words. The effort runs through Jan. 22.

“Just pause and reflect and think about the assumptions I have,” added Nia Eubanks-Dixon, AFSC youth director. “We all have internalized the way we ‘other’ other people. How have we been conditioned to look at other people?”